The spookiest of holidays is almost upon us, and while Halloween isn’t the only time of year for reading about witches, it certainly offers the perfect excuse to celebrate all things witchy. And witches these days aren’t just broomstick-riding spellcasters with warty noses—not that there’s anything wrong with those types either. No, these witches are smashing the patriarchy one spell at a time and looking cool doing it. The books about magic users I’m reading these days are infused with feminism and fiercely loyal protagonists. Whether you’re into old-school witches or modern takes on this classic archetype, these witches have got it going on.
Of course, witches aren’t the only ones wielding badass powers—whether it’s a spell-slinging warlock or a sorcerer summoning demonic familiars, the magic-users in these pages are sure to inspire a little bit of ferocity in you, too. So if your TBR list needs a bit of freshening up this fall, just abracadabra up a comfy chair and check out these incredible, new-school witchy reads, just in time for Halloween!
The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass by Adan Jerreat-Poole
The Coven, a group of power-hungry witches, rule the City of Eyes. As a made-thing, a witch’s daughter made from glass and wood and all manner of materials, Eli follows their every command. She is a ghost assassin, created to destroy creatures inhabiting human bodies with her beloved blades. But the witches keep their secrets well. Eli still doesn’t know what she was made from, and when she meets a mysterious purple-haired teen on a motorcycle and an Uber driver with ulterior motives, she learns that the witches have been using her in ways she never could’ve imagined.
Now she has a new target in mind: the very witches who made and command her. But first she’ll have to sneak two humans into the witches’ world—and make sure they survive—in order to seek help from a witch who turned her back on the City of Eyes.
This is truly a witch story unlike any I’ve ever read before. Complete with ghost assassins and cruel, domineering mothers straight out of a fairy tale, The Girl of Hawthorn and Glass makes for a perfect spooky read this October.
The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson
Witchcraft is a crime in Bethel—a crime that marred Immanuelle’s birth and every moment of her life since. In a secluded religious sect where tempting a man is considered a sin, women have to follow the letter of the Prophet’s word to keep themselves from the stocks or the pyre. And for Immanuelle, a girl already considered suspect due to the color of her skin and the nature of her birth, keeping herself far removed from accusations of witchcraft is of the utmost importance. But there’s a curse plaguing Bethel—a curse of Biblical proportions—and witchcraft may be the only way to stop it.
A haunting tale blending witchcraft and womanhood, religious sects and racism, The Year of the Witching is a story that could almost be taken straight out of Salem—if the horrors behind those historical tragedies had included any real, vengeful witches.
The Once and Future Witches by Alix E. Harrow
A feminist tale of magic and suffrage, where witchcraft and the fight for women’s rights are vilified as one and the same. Important things always come in threes. Take the sisters at the heart of this story: James, Agnes, and Beatrice. When these estranged sisters, raised by their grandmother in the ways of petty magic, join up with the suffragists of New Salem, they must delve into the oldest, most powerful magic to win the fight for women’s rights. But in a town that will not suffer a witch—or a woman—to vote, they’ll have to heal old wounds and bond together to bring witchcraft back into the modern age. Otherwise, they might just burn like the witches of old.
White Trash Warlock by David R. Slayton
Witches, let me introduce you to my new favorite warlock—ahem, magician. Adam Binder isn’t exactly the most powerful magic-user on the block. He’s more likely to use his powers to keep his car running for another day than to defeat the forces of evil. That is, until his estranged brother calls him up asking for a favor: help save his seemingly possessed wife. Pretty rich, coming from the same brother who committed him for hearing voices. But family is family, and even if Adam doesn’t have the best relationship with his brother, he’s not going to let an innocent person suffer. Especially if he can help. Too bad the forces affecting his sister-in-law and wreaking havoc in Denver are way above his magical pay grade. With a human cop and his elf ex on his side, Adam will have to actually take on those evil forces this time, because, well…he’s the only one left to do it.
This debut fantasy series (full disclosure: the author, David R. Slayton, is a friend) is rural, urban fantasy like you’ve never seen. This is no Chosen One narrative—this is a regular guy, who just happens to have a bit of magic, trying to do his best in life. Once you pick this book up, you won’t be able to put it back down.
Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson
Elisabeth has always known that that sorcerers were evil. As a foundling raised in a magical library, it was one of the first things she was taught. The Wardens protect the books from the people and the people from the books, because magic is dangerous—and deadly. But when a book is released, transforming into a monster of ink, leather, and magic, Elisabeth’s heroic efforts to save the library—and the neighboring village—inadvertently implicate her in the crime.
Taken to the capital to face justice, Elisabeth’s only ally is also someone she is certain she can’t trust: a young sorcerer she’s met once before named Nathaniel Thorn. Along with the help of his demon assistant, Nathaniel begins to call into question everything Elisabeth thought she knew about sorcerers and magic—and everything she’s ever been taught. But whatever the truth, in the wrong hands, magic is certainly dangerous. And when Elisabeth becomes caught in the crosshairs of a sorcerer with plans to destroy all the great libraries and unleash an ancient evil, it might just prove fatal.
Another truly unputdownable book and one of my favorite reads this year.
When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey
If Sabrina and Willow have taught us anything, it’s that teen girls make the best witches. Or maybe the worst best witches, considering all the trouble that magic powers plus high school drama can bring. So when Alexis accidentally kills a boy in bed, she knows two things to help make it right: her friends and her magic. But when their attempts to make the problem go away just make everything worse, this unshakable group of friends have to live with the consequences—and with each other—no matter the cost.
Sarah Gailey is one of my absolute favorite authors and their first foray into Young Adult fiction doesn’t disappoint.( It’s not their only witch-centric book, either, if you’re interested! Magic for Liars is about the non-magical sister of a teacher at a prestigious school for magic, called in to investigate a possible murder.)
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir
Is a necromancer a witch? Well, necromancy is certainly magic, and this is my list, so I say it is. Regardless, this sequel to the incredible Gideon the Ninth (which, yes, you should read first) is a tale of bone magic like you’ve never seen before. In Tamsyn Muir’s masterful hands, the events following the end of Gideon are unfolded with painstaking care and impeccable timing. It’s entirely possible Harrow would conjure a skeleton horde to disembowel me for calling her a witch when what she does is clearly an art and a science, but there’s still no doubt in my mind that this science fantasy book deserves a spot in the hallowed hall of witchcraft and magickery.
Ruinsong by Julia Ember
Music is magic in the Queendom of Bordea. Those blessed by the goddess with the gift of song have become the most powerful entities in the land under the rule of the new queen—but also the most feared. And none more so than Cadence, the queen’s Principal Singer, who wields her voice as a curse against the nobility who once scorned and betrayed her. A rebellion is brewing, though, and when Cadence’s childhood friend, Remi, returns to her life as one of the queen’s—and her own—victims, the singer is finally forced to make a choice: stand up to the queen once and for all or continue being complicit in her torturous reign.
The Bone Shard Daughter by Andrea Stewart
Bone shard magic holds the Empire together. In order to prove her worth as heir, the Emperor’s daughter, Lin, sets out to master the magic her father uses to maintain law and order— even if it is forbidden. But revolution is brewing, and Lin must decide how far she is willing to go to wield this forbidden magic and claim her birthright.
Epic fantasy and bone magic…can you really ask for anything more from a book? And in Stewart’s masterful hands, it’s a truly winning combination.
Originally published October 2020.
Rachel is an incurable SFF fanatic who screams her love of books into the internet void on Book Riot. Her fiction can be found in Andromeda Spaceways, Luna Station Quarterly, and other places, including her website.